light into ashes
Sep 22, 2008 12:10pm
Cream (Clapton/Bruce/Baker) - non-Dead
When Cream went to San Francisco in August '67, they had been playing short sets of blues covers and original pop songs, much like on their first two albums, but the soloing hadn't stretched out yet into long improvised jams. They were upset when their manager turned down an invitation to the Monterey Pop Festival, but when Bill Graham booked them for a ten-day run at the Fillmore, they were thrilled by the experience, and it marked a turning-point in their music. As Jack Bruce says, "The place was crammed. We were blown away by the fact that people knew who we were. They had the best sound system we'd ever used, which was crucial."
The story goes that when they finished a set at the Fillmore, the audience kept shouting for "more!" - so the band decided to drop the usual setlist and "play anything", and extended their solos into long jams. There's an exciting tape from the Sept 3 Fillmore show - among other songs, Sweet Wine now has a great freeform jam, and the Spoonful features an incredible modal solo from Clapton.
Cream were billed with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band - Clapton said they were fantastic, and he may have been influenced by Mike Bloomfield's soloing on East-West. (Bloomfield, in return, seems to have been quite frightened by Clapton's playing.) Ironically, after hearing local San Francisco bands like Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother, and Moby Grape, Clapton declared himself "very unimpressed". I don't know if he ever saw the Dead, or would have wanted to, though the Dead were then extending their jams as much as Cream was. But the whole point of Cream was that they felt they had higher standards in their playing than any other rock band. Clapton said in an October '67 interview: "We don't do anything straight. We're into music much more now - as much as jazz musicians. There are no arrangements except for arrival and departure points. Sometimes we just play free for half an hour."
By the time they left San Francisco, Cream had become the jamming monsters they would be known for, playing a small setlist with twenty-minute solos everywhere. Clapton was quite taken by the city - "We loved it. It was like coming home." - and they decided to record their next live album there the following March.
Several Cream shows are now on the Archive - unfortunately many of the great shows are still missing - like that Fillmore show - or the Ricky Tick in April '67 - Winterland, March '68 - the astonishing Back Bay show, April '68 - the farewell Albert Hall show, November '68 - look elsewhere for those. But fall '67/early '68 has the best live Cream shows, and there are a number of examples here.
An example of 'early-style' Cream playing short blues songs is the Klooks Kleek club show - http://www.archive.org/details/cream1966-11-15
The best 'bootleg' recording of a Cream show is from Detroit in Oct '67 - this show has long been famous for its incendiary power - http://www.archive.org/details/cream1967-10-15
Another great extended show, though only in average audience-taped quality - http://www.archive.org/details/Cream1967-09-10WalthamMA
A good show from Stockholm that fall, this copy is an upgrade from earlier sources - http://www.archive.org/details/cream1967-11-14
Highly recommended is the show in Los Angeles they played right after their Fillmore run - this excellent audience tape surfaced only recently, and sent shockwaves through Cream collectors - http://www.archive.org/details/Cream1969-09-04WhiskeyAGoGo
And just for comparison, a Dallas show from their last tour - http://www.archive.org/details/cream1968-10-25
(A few other shows are up on the Archive, but of limited interest.)
The best Cream site on the web is this one: http://twtd.bluemountains.net.au/cream/contents.htm
It has numerous articles on the band, I'll just point out the brief guide to bootlegged shows - http://twtd.bluemountains.net.au/cream/bootlegguide.htm
and the index of reviewed shows - http://twtd.bluemountains.net.au/cream/boots.htm
And for those interested, a comparison of Clapton and Hendrix - http://twtd.bluemountains.net.au/cream/jeff/ecjhgtr.htm
and a response - http://twtd.bluemountains.net.au/cream/jhecalternate.htm
along with several other comparative articles.